Why Trump Must Get Pakistan Right

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 January 13, 2018|
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The Trump Administration has rightly acknowledged that Pakistan presents a problem in America’s ongoing (and seemingly endless) Global War on Terrorism. Pakistan—like Saudi Arabia and Iran—is a pernicious proliferator of jihadism. Like Saudi Arabia, however, Pakistan is also a vital ally of the United States. Pakistan has served as a vital logistics hub for U.S. supplies and personnel (as well as joint-counterterrorism operations).

Of course, Pakistan is also a place where both the Taliban and al-Qaeda derive much of their support.

To say that Pakistan is an unstable country is an understatement. In fact, Pakistan sucks, in the words of Pakistan-born Salman Rushdie. A small cadre of elite political leaders in Pakistan is fond of the West. Yet more in the military and intelligence services—particularly at the mid-levels of the bureaucracy—are strident Islamists, ardent anti-Indian ideologues, or both. Meanwhile, the people of Pakistan are overwhelmingly pro-Islamist and virulently anti-American. If not for its strategic location in South Asia—and for the presence of an arsenal of 150 aging nuclear weapons—Pakistan would not rise to the level of notice in U.S. foreign policy. But, its nuclear arsenal and location make Pakistan one of the top three most important states for American grand strategy.

I have argued that the best path out of Afghanistan for the United States is not through Pakistan, as so many believe, but rather through India. By aligning more closely with India, the United States, in theory, could place pressure on the Pakistanis to get them fully to assist our efforts to end the war in Afghanistan on terms favorable to the West.

Unfortunately, the ability to conduct that kind of complex diplomacy has been hampered by the ham-fisted nature of the Trump Administration’s Pakistan policy. The goal of buddying up with India was to pressure Pakistan rather than challenge Islamabad directly. An overt challenge would put on the defensive the mostly pro-American minority of leaders in the country. To keep their power, they would then kowtow to more popular Islamist sentiments.

The goal should be not to rile up the anti-American fervor that burns hot in Pakistan; rather, our goal should be to get the Pakistani government to help U.S. forces in Afghanistan leave, while simultaneously preventing Afghanistan from becoming conquered yet again by terrorists.

In recent weeks, however, the Trump Administration has not only riled up the Pakistanis but also unilaterally cut off billions of dollars worth of military aid. True, Pakistan didn’t deserve all that money for all those years. Unfortunately, disconnecting the Pakistani government from U.S. tax dollars has worked to empower the extremists.

The administration should continue to move closer to India, but it should not be openly attacking Pakistan. Instead, it should be conducting quiet shuttle diplomacy between Washington, D.C., Islamabad, and New Delhi. By completely shutting down the flow of money into Pakistan, the Trump Administration has turned friends into enemies and has empowered our enemies to become fanatics. What’s worse, Pakistan and China now consider themselves to be “iron brothers” opposed to U.S. influence in Asia—something that is inimical to American grand strategy for that region.

Our diplomatic efforts in South Asia require a deft touch. With China, Pakistan, India, Iran, and Russia all jockeying for greater power and influence, what happens in Afghanistan does not stay in Afghanistan. Further, Afghanistan is not the strategic priority that the H.R. McMaster-James Mattis wing believes it to be. With America maintaining its presence in that part of the world, we are actually destabilizing relations with traditional nation-states, such as China and Russia, and could be opening strategic opportunities for China and Russia to expand in ways that threaten the global balance of power. Afghanistan is only important in its potential to complicate needlessly our relations with Russia and China.

The flow of money into Pakistan, coupled with America’s newfound relationship with India, as well as a promise to leave all but the smallest counterterrorism force behind in Afghanistan is what will be needed to convince the Pakistanis to help the United States achieve its strategic goal: preventing global terrorism from emanating from Afghanistan ever again. When it comes to Pakistan, the Trump Administration needs more diplomacy and less bombast. Because, when dealing with Islamabad, it is not just about Afghanistan, but about the entire region—that could go up in smoke at any moment.

The Obama Administration got Pakistan all wrong (and we lost our advanced stealth helicopter during the showy Bin Laden raid to the Chinese because of it). Trump has an opportunity now to get Pakistan right.

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About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor to American Greatness. A former Republican congressional staffer and national security expert, he also runs "The Weichert Report" (www.theweichertreport.com), an online journal of geopolitics. He holds master's degree in statecraft and national security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an associate member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in political science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
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  • BanBait

    I’m sorry, I missed what the “grand strategy” was. It was my impression that that entire part of the world is a gigantic sh*thole (so to speak) and I’m having a very difficult time justifying the loss of blood and treasure to a bunch of savages that obviously don’t value Western traditions of liberty in the slightest. Now, are the Pak nukes a problem? Sure? Could they and the Indians wind up nuking each other? Yup. Could Afghanistan go all ISIS on us? Absolutely. But I have yet to hear anyone cogently explain how we’re supposed to fix or stop any of it.

  • Marathon-Youth

    Pakistan is moving into China’s orbit. With the Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) China has extended her silk road into the Gwadar Port which enters the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka handed over the Hambantota Port to China thereby almost completing the “string of pearls” around India. China will extend the silk road from Pakistan to Iran and has plans to extend it from Iran to Turkey.
    China’s silk roads “hard wire’ Asia together and along with Russia’s oil pipes interconnect China and Russia.
    Both China and Russia have formed an alliance linking Russia’s CSTO (Collective Security treaty Org) with China’s SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) which includes the Central Asian Muslim nations including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.
    Pakistan is already a member of BRICS headquartered in Shanghai. She is also a member of China’s Asian Development and Infrastructure Bank with 58 members.
    As for Afghanistan she remains the “unrealized giant” in natural resources, now pegged at around 3 Trillion dollars with a smorgasbord of minerals including large deposits of Lithium.
    PS: Pakistan also has vast natural deposits especially in her Baluchistan province which includes one of the world’s largest deposits of Copper.

    • Laura

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  • D4x

    Weichert fails to note that Pakistan had a government crisis July 2017. Since Parliament elected Shahid Abbasi to PM on August 1, this new, surprise compromise PM has been engaged by TeamTrump, with frustrating results. The Trump administration is hobbled by Pakistan’s designation a a US Major Non-Nato-ally in 2004: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_non-NATO_ally

    Any ‘bombast’ now is solely a way to get Pakistan’s military to stop using USA military aid against India, which is Pakistan’s sole OTHER – a bad distraction from so many internal problems, like a 40% illiteracy rate; separatist movements in Baluchistan and Sindh; the Pashtuns jockeying with the Punjabis in the military; and Pakistan’s complete failure to support their expatriate workers in the GCC with employment contracts. India’s success in bilateral agreements and online access to real employment contracts has led to Indian expats supplanting Pakistan in the GCC, while Pakistan’s dysfunctional government is clueless.

    Before he does more damage to US foreign policy in South Asia. Weichert needs to start reading State.gov; a lot more about South Asian history; and, easier: follow the best expert on Pakistan: https://twitter.com/husainhaqqani Hudson Institute’s Husain Haqqani.

    American Greatness REALLY needs to moderate comments – especially the targeted cyber-tags disguised as spam.

    • Everett Brunson

      First–glad to see you are back.

      Second–I was fortunate enough to watch Ghandi a few nights ago. I am still mesmerized by Kingsley’s performance. Pakistan has worked against its own best interest since its re-creation in 1947. India is a much better ally though not as much help in the ME but a great help against a hegemonic China.

      • D4x

        First- not sure it is good to be back, except to be back in conversation with you, and two other friends.

        Second – I watched with you, on TCM, “Gandhi”. A great film. Am always distracted by my first view, when it opened, at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan. I was next in line to step up to the box office to buy my ticket when two black suits silently slipped in front of me. To this day, I can not understand how I knew to stay silent at such a sudden, rude violation of line waiting. A beautiful mink (or sable) coat with long wavy brunette hair exchanged places with the suits. Then I heard her voice, calling for John-John: it was Jackie.

        My memorable distraction is because of the opening scene – the gunshot assassination of Gandhi. Still wondering if she knew in advance to expect what would have otherwise been a shock, and where she was in that huge, single screen: theatre. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziegfeld_Theatre_(1969)

        Do not underestimate India’s help in the ME. PM Modi worked hard to develop strong bilateral relationships with the Saudis and GCC in 2013-15. More than three million Indian ex-pats in KSA. Pakistan blames India for ‘stealing’ those expat jobs, which will no doubt increase as Saudi families hire female nanny or cook drivers this year. Bollywood theme park in Dubai. First state visit of an Indian PM to Israel, in 2017.

        Third – I just caught up at UK Daily Mail, scanning the headlines on a Trump search. Seems I did not miss much besides the new ‘scandals’, except for the critique that the Trump WH failed to hold a single state dinner, without mentioning the two Official Dinners (one protocol level below) in same week: June 29 for RoK, and, June 26 for PM Modi of India. heck of a place setting: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c6dca60244f4af7e9ece61bc4cd5802e47445ce50d21e444dfb91fbc31882bb1.jpg

        Fourth – not sure I can follow foreign policy as closely in 2018. My cognitive dissonance became too depressing. Will keep reading State.gov, but not spend the time to write and edit comments for unresearched posts like this anymore.

        TAI just had two excellent posts, by Haqqani on Pakistan which you saw, and Jonathan Speyer on Iran strategy. Speyer, like VDH, and Spengler, failed to see how much work had gone into building the relationships for the Iran strategy, only noticing when it was finally put in writing in the December National Security Strategy. It should not be this hard for sympathetic, smart pundits to do what we do: read primary sources.

        My reconfigured PC may be better, but, still wary of the trolls, like the one here. He was a party to hate speech that resulted in a targeted hack from that last TAI thread on Jerusalem, which is why I took three weeks off. I finally blocked him. If he comes back, ignore him – he only wants to distract the thread, especially if it is about India, or Israel. Pretends to be an American. Kind of fun to see the cyber-tag disguised as spam tagging whatever he wrote here.

        Haqqani built on that TAI post here: https://theprint.in/2018/01/15/us-pak-alliance-when-core-interests-do-not-converge/

        Good to see Sec Tillerson still at work – opening the new UK Embassy today. 🙂
        See you later.

        • Everett Brunson

          I am happy to count LB and A as friends also.

          You are aware of that six degrees of separation thing–I’m glad you didn’t object either–what a moment.

          Am I recalling correctly that Marathon-Youth is from Sri Lanka? He and I got into an exchange on Am Greatness and he has not yet responded back. It was about the historical accurateness of Gandhi. He claims great inaccuracies but has not put forth any examples as yet.

          Have a great ’18 my friend–whatever steps you have to take.

          • D4x

            Yes, and, yes, Sri Lanka.

  • Joseph Dickinson

    I think let the “terrorists” take over Afghanistan. Or more accurately “extreme Islamist” We don’t really have a lot to gain by staying and more to lose. America already has resources, and since everything is warming in that region anyway, they will migrate out on their own. And eventually be encultralized with the rest of the world. We don’t need as much government as we have now, nor as far a reach as we have. Who has benefited from the war in the last few years? Those who benefit should pay Pakistan not the American people of which the majority don’t want to be there in the first place.